Tag Archives: surveillance

Updates from the Technology and Repression Front

In the realm of technology and repression, last week was filled with both dark and light.

On the lighter side, a Chinese dissident imprisoned using information from Yahoo! was finally released after 10 years. Yahoo! took a great deal of heat for turning over information originally, and settled a civil suit over the affair.

On the dark side, the New York Times reported that two researchers have identified an off-the-shelf surveillance program that can extensively monitor computer activity, including taking screen shots and recording skype conversations, which has been used against activists in multiple countries. It appears that governments that don’t have the resources to design surveillance systems themselves can just use off-the-shelf software instead. Although the maker says that the software is to be used exclusively in criminal investigations, evidence suggests that it sells to governments who intend to use it against protesters.

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Online Surveillance as a Demobilizing Deterrent

Credit: The Syrian Free Computer Society

Mobilizing Ideas has published a number of posts on digitally enabled social activism, online censorship, the impact of online resources upon mobilization, and related issues (see here and here.) Gary King and his colleagues recently released an interesting paper that analyzes the Chinese government’s censorship of social media sites.  In a nut shell they scraped posts to over 1,300 social media sites in China and scraped them before human government censors were able to remove the posts. Rescraping the sites, they were able to determine what posts had been removed by the Chinese government.  They developed 85 topic areas, and thereby cataloged the states’ interests by comparing what was removed with what was allowed to remain posted across those issue areas.

Contrary to previous understandings, posts with negative, even vitriolic, criticism of the state, its leaders, and its policies are not more likely to be censored. Continue reading

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Reactions to Mobilization: Framing Occupiers, Environmentalists and Anti-Regime Protesters

For those who study and teach about social movements and collective action, the last year has provided us with numerous cases. From OWS, environmental activism, the Arab Spring, and the Tea Party, we have compared and contrasted these cases, often seeking to find common themes across these, using existing theoretical frameworks to shed light on contemporary cases, or alternatively, use what’s going on out there as a way to reevaluate existing theories of social movements and collective action.

One important and emerging theme is the way in which people – from the public, to the media, to political elites – react to social movements.  Scholars have shown how positive and negative reactions, especially by elites, have important consequences for subsequent mobilization. Of course, elite responses to protesters vary; by no means is government surveillance (as is the case with environmental groups in Canada) equivalent to the brutality faced by activists and bystanders in Syria. Yet, there is a common theme when it comes to elite framing of challenges as illegitimate and depicting challengers as radicals and terrorists. Continue reading


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Panopticon Policing?

What an exciting time it is to be teaching a class on social movements! Over the past several months, the students in my Social Movements seminar have been watching and writing about Occupy Vancouver.  One student was so inspired by the larger Occupy movement that she went to New York for a week.  In a recent class presentation she showed us some photographs from her visit.  These were not the images of Occupy Wall Street we had seen in the mainstream media.  I wanted to draw your attention to one particular photograph that the student has kindly allowed me to share with you.

Panopticon policing the protest

This picture shows a police tower with blacked out windows.  The tower is permanently stationed at the Occupy site. As the student noted, not only can police observe what is going on from all directions, but the protesters can’t know if anyone is even in there.  Is this panopticon a new form of protest policing?


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Occupy Wall Street and the Surveillance Society

A Nov. 9, 2011 article in the International Business Times notes the presence of mobile surveillance units during the Occupy Wall Street protest in Zuccotti Park:

Tall, white-metal behemoths, they look like space-age cherry-pickers, but they’re some of the most visible high-tech crime-fighting machines the NYPD has at its disposal. Dubbed SkyWatch, the controversial surveillance program began in 2006, and has kept an eye on the populace from high in the sky ever since.

Occupy Wall Street may be one of the programs’ key targets Continue reading

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